Nap-of-the-earth flying is exciting. But while it undoubtedly adds to the attraction, adrenaline kick is not why helicopter pilots have a predisposition for hugging the terrain. Flying low is taught and practiced for many sound reasons, including the ability to land quickly and safely when trouble strikes. But Col. Jim Slife, an Air Force special operations helicopter pilot, argues there’s no single way to do things, and sometimes it’s the counterintuitive approach that makes sense. Given today’s threats in Iraq and Afghanistan, which include being shot down by all manner of rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and man-portable missile systems, a review of helicopter tactics may be in order.
In our cover story this month, Slife makes the case for high-altitude helicopter flight. You don’t have to be a pilot to appreciate this good read and compelling argument from an expert.
Our feature package this month brings the collective wisdom of Naval Sea Systems Command’s Rear. Adm. Chuck Goddard, Christopher Deegan and Howard Fireman, plus the Office of Naval Intelligence’s Cmdr. John Patch, to address the Navy’s most vexing and interrelated questions — what’s the role and how to afford it?
Moving to the ground, Richard May, a former Army officer who did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and who is now a fellow at the Center for Defense Information, asks why the U.S. doesn’t give more logistics support work in Iraq to those who most need the work and the money — the Iraqis.
And on the industry front, Chris Griffin analyzes an aircraft program that is both unusual in its approach and bedeviled with delays. In seeking to create its own airborne early warning and control aircraft capability, Australia blazed a brave trail with its Wedgetail program, opting to spend its own money on an industry development program that U.S. firms would lead. It’s a massively complex program, so technological problems should not be surprising. But as Chris shows, not all of the finger-pointing is correctly aimed, and the strategic importance of Wedgetail to Australia and its allies deserves whatever effort, and headaches, it takes to get there.